Johanna Fernández, class of 1993 (interview 2 of 2)


In her second interview, Johanna Fernández, Brown University class of 1993, shares her experiences as a professor and radio show host in New York City during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Fernández begins by explaining how she came to host the morning show on WBAI (99.5 FM) in November 2019. She describes learning how to engage listeners and host interviews in this platform. Additionally, she shares some of the calls that came in as cases of COVID-19 began to spread across New York. Fernández interviewed one of the first men to be hospitalized in the city with COVID-19; then Christian Smalls, an Amazon worker who protested Amazon’s working conditions, and a man who was imprisoned at the Attica Correctional Facility and who survived the prisoner rebellion there in 1971. When asked how she copes while listening to people’s suffering, Fernández explains that over 25 years of therapy has aided her in working through the emotional and mental toll of listening to these stories.1 However, she emphasizes the mental health crisis that health care workers must be facing who received little or no guidance during this time.

Fernández transitions to talking about how her work as a professor changed when her university, Baruch College of the City University of New York, moved to remote learning. She describes the challenges of moving to online teaching and learning in a brief period of time, and talks about the students’ desire for her to continue hosting live classes.

At the beginning of her interview, Fernández also discusses her 2014 lawsuit against the New York City Police. She sued them for access to archival police files documenting surveillance of the Young Lords – an organization Fernández describes as the Puerto Rican counterpart to the Black Panthers.2 After having won the case, Fernández notes the police have repeatedly towed her car as retribution.

Throughout the interview, Fernández draws connections among COVID-19, problems of capitalism, for-profit healthcare, and state violence.

1 Fernández adds, “My first introduction to psychological therapy happened at Brown. The incredible Maria Theresa Otoya, the Latina therapist assigned to me during my first year at Brown, died in a plane crash in 1995.”

2 For more information about Fernández’s successful lawsuit against the New York City Police re: the Young Lords surveillance files, see the following article:

See also: Johanna Fernández, class of 1993 (interview 1 of 2) and The 1992 takeover of University Hall


Recorded on May 27, 2020 via Zoom
Interviewed by Mary Murphy, Nancy L. Buc ’65 LLD‘94 hon Pembroke Center Archivist

Suggested Chicago style citation: Fernández, Johanna. Interview. By Mary Murphy. Pembroke Center Oral History Project, Brown University. May 27, 2020.


Johanna Fernández is a native New Yorker. She received a PhD in History from Columbia University and an AB in Literature and American Civilization from Brown University. While at Brown, she led the April 1992 student occupation of University Hall in hopes of pressuring Brown to move more rapidly towards the admission of students regardless of their ability to pay to attend. During the takeover, 253 students, including Fernández, were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for not vacating University Hall. Need-blind admission would not be established at Brown until 2003 and was not fully practiced until 2007. 

Fernández is associate professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York where she teaches 20th Century U.S. History, the history of social movements, the political economy of American cities, and African-American history. She has previously taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, PA, and Trinity College in Hartford, CT. In December 2019, Fernández published her most recent manuscript, The Young Lords: A Radical History.